How I Spent My Summer…Weekend

/begin rant/

I am pissed. And my back & hips hurt like crazy – even after more or less relaxing yesterday.

Over two years ago, I decided it was time to do paths from the house to the garden steps and down to the compost bin. We have a chigger problem here and I was getting tired of having to slather on repellent even for the quick trip to the compost bin. It was either that or one or more of those little buggers would find me in the 30-second trip.

I have this thing about blending into our forest surroundings as best we can.  So, I decided the paths I wanted should be stone and the best thing I could find was slate. Not that I really knew what I was doing but I started laying it on my own:

It was back-breaking work (slate is heavy) but I was determined I’d get it done. Then I discovered the stones weren’t staying put in the dirt. They needed to be “fixed” there. On top of that, although chiggers are supposed to live in grassy areas, they apparently don’t mind dirt. So, I talked with my (now former) handyman about laying the slate in concrete that had been dyed dirt color. I knew it was possible – I’d seen it.

What the (now former) handyman failed to tell me was he didn’t know how to do that and rather than finding someone who could (I would’ve paid him a fee for doing so), determined to do it himself.

Two years ago last week, they poured a layer of concrete. I was told the stones would be laid and fixed in place with dyed mortar on top of that. Three weeks later, during the eclipse, this is what one of them looked like:

Doesn’t really “blend”, does it?

Then he disappeared. For months. Finally, in June 2018, he came and laid the stones – while I wasn’t here. The mortar wasn’t dyed dark enough – it was tan. I don’t live in the desert. And the stones were too far apart. There was nothing I could do about the spacing at that point but we talked about it and decided he’d hand-paint concrete dye to get it dark enough.

Then he disappeared again. I got him to come by in May and pressure-wash everything so we could start the re-staining process (an ongoing chore with a wood-sided house and wood retaining walls and stairs that get a lot of sun) and he promised to come “soon” to stain the paths.

I finally got sick of waiting on him. The concrete dye he was going to use only comes in 1-gallon containers and by my calculations, it was only going to take about a cup of dye to do the whole thing because the dye would have to be severely diluted. I decided, “screw it” and since I had the wood stain out for the stairs and retaining walls, thought to test it on the concrete. Full sun and a couple of rain showers later, it was still as dark as it had been.

So, for three days, I sat on the ground, bent over with an artist’s brush to outline the stones and a larger one for the gaps and stained the walkways (and stairs – husband’s doing the retaining walls).

Is it what I wanted? No. Will it suffice? It will have to. I don’t want to spend the money to have it all torn out and re-done properly. Will the stain last? Probably about as long as it does on the wood – about three years. I’m not looking forward to re-doing it but such is life.

/end rant/

The Interconnectedness of Man and Plants

This is an article I wrote for a now-defunct magazine almost ten years ago. I believe it still holds true.

I live in the woods and frequently have city friends come to visit, to “connect with nature”.  While getting out into the country, away from city noise, light and smell, is a great thing to do, Man and Nature are already connected, even for city dwellers.

Plants have nourished every other living thing on this planet since time immemorial.  When thinking about eating plants, most people’s minds automatically turn to the vegetables or salad on their plate.  However, you are indirectly eating plants when you consume meat or dairy products.  Plants nourished the animals that produced those food items, too!

Other plants, namely trees, help keep our air clean by filtering out pollutants. We use their wood to warm ourselves by a fire and build our homes.  Water-based plants help keep water clean for those creatures that drink or breathe it.

We and our green brothers and sisters are the same in many respects … we all need air, water and sunshine; along with minerals for use in our bodies.  The same pollutants that harm our bodies also harm the plants.  Today’s buzzword is “organic” but the idea is not just to prevent the chemicals used on commercial farms from getting into your body and wreaking havoc.  Organically-grown plants are generally higher in vitamins and minerals than those treated with pesticides, fungicides, and synthetic fertilizers.  The healthier the plant, the more vitamins, minerals, and other substances it has to share with you.

The marvelous thing about plants is, not only are they nourishing, they have beneficial healing powers.  Their unique combinations of chemical compounds have provided us with a way to help virtually every human ailment, with the exception of cancer and HIV (and those are being studied even as I write).

Man has known about the healing power of plants for millennia.  Excavations of Neolithic villages in England and Switzerland have shown that our ancestors there used plants … probably not just as food but for their healing qualities as well.  A prehistoric man found frozen in the Italian Alps carried a piece of fungus we know would have cured his intestinal parasites. It’s estimated he lived 5,300 years ago.

So, how did we find out about all this?  Science says “experimentation”.  Because I hear plants speak, I believe that the plants themselves told us. Before the advent of industrialization and technology, Man lived his life close to and in harmony with Nature.  It’s not hard to imagine someone walking in the woods, feeling very poorly, and hearing “if you eat a few of my leaves, I can help you feel better.”   It’s also not hard to imagine that person, noticing he did feel better after eating part of the plant, take one of the plants home and put it in the ground near the entrance to his cave or hut, just in case the same malady struck again.  The same thing happened to other people and word spread.

Man learned to cultivate plants for both their nourishment and their healing abilities.  In older times, a kitchen garden would contain not only vegetables but herbs.  Herbs would flavor the food, but the lady of the house would also use them to treat the injuries and illnesses of the household.

Science, in its infinite curiosity, wanted to know how the plants did what they do to heal us.  When chemical analysis became available, they started breaking the plants down into their constituent parts and then figured out how to synthesize the “active chemical constituent” or what they thought was the reason the plant worked.  Sometimes they were and are right and the synthetic drug works.  Many other times, however, the synthetic either doesn’t work as well, or has side effects not found if you take the plant in its whole form.

There’s a reason for this.  Plants are much more than their chemical compounds.  They are a harmonious whole, made up of the air they breathe, the water they drink, the vibrations of the sun and moon on their aerial parts, and the minerals their roots pull from the soil around them.  It’s this harmony that works to bring our body back into balance with itself when we use plants to help a human condition. I can think of only a few problems when taking herbs in a correct format and dosage, yet the list of side effects for synthetic drugs seems to grow faster than kudzu.

In a way, Science’s synthesizing did Nature a favor by preventing over-harvesting of some plants.  Synthetic drugs have been a way of life for most people in the Western world for over one hundred years.  However, recent “back to nature” health trends have endangered some plants again, most notably American Ginseng, Black Cohosh and Wild Yam.

Growing your own herbs not only helps prevent the extinction of many plants, it has an added benefit. If the plant lives in the same environment you do, it will interact with your body more easily and, strangely enough, provide you more of what you need than the same plant grown in completely different surroundings.  Admittedly, we can’t grow all the herbs we need. I haven’t figured out how to keep a Commiphora (Myrrh) tree alive in Georgia when it’s a native of the deserts of Yemen.  But the basics like Peppermint, Feverfew, Sage and others will grow just about anywhere, even in pots on a deck or balcony.

Unless we actively cultivate our friends, they won’t be around to help us when we need them.  Grow your own and support groups like United Plant Savers (which keeps an eye on endangered plants) and the Arbor Day Foundation (which advocates planting more trees).  Without our green brothers and sisters, life will not go on.

Update: Now with More Cussing!

Last week, I told you about my shoulders freezing again. As a friend of mine said, I’m a “pragmatic masochist.” After going through it all twice, I know what to do – there’s no reason to drive to town and pay someone to tell me. So, every afternoon, I torture myself. The physical therapy is going well…range-of-motion is almost back to normal but the pain has only subsided a little. I know it’ll eventually go away but as I’ve said before, patience is not one of my virtues!

(I’ll be “done” when I’ve finished typing this – the right shoulder is starting to complain more loudly than usual. I’m able to lurk on social media because using the touchpad on the laptop to scroll and “like” posts isn’t too bad.)

What has me hopping mad: a little over two weeks ago I crowed about the success of a spell. To quote myself, “I usually stress being very specific in spell wording but this time, I just wanted my car back and completely functional – and that’s what I asked for.” I’m going back to stressing being very specific. I did get my car back, completely functional…for 2½ weeks and 580 miles. The husband and I were headed into town to get pizza Friday night. I’d just gotten up to speed on the 4-lane and hit cruise control when it dropped out of cruise and threw yet another check-engine light – this time it was flashing rather than steady, which hubby tells me is more serious.

And let me tell you, the “limp home mode” is really limping. Remember, I live in the mountains. We were only about 5 miles from home but hills. At a maximum of only 2,000 rpm, B2 was only doing about 12 mph on the 4-lane (65 mph speed limit) as she came to the top of a hill. It took about 20 minutes to crawl the 5 miles and even with the hazard lights on, I pissed off a few drivers behind me.

I guess the only saving grace is that it happened on Friday, not far from home, rather than on Tuesday when I was somewhere in Atlanta traffic…

So, B2 is back at the dealership waiting on a new engine and I’m waiting to hear about a rental car. Having my car back for 2 weeks has probably put me at the bottom of the list for a new engine. My guess? Late July to mid-August sometime.

I don’t want to wait that long. Back to the drawing board…

Getting Old: Not for the Faint of Heart

If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you may remember that six and seven years ago, I had surgery on my left and right shoulders, respectively, for idiopathic adhesive capsulitis, aka “frozen shoulder.” That’s where, for no known reason, the shoulder slowly stops working and seems to happen more often to post-menopausal women. At the time, it was so bad I couldn’t raise my arm & had to bend over in the shower to wash my hair. But the surgery plus several weeks of physical therapy (ouch!) got me back to moving normally.

The surgeon told me they might re-freeze after a year or so and if that happened, he’d sedate me and manipulate the shoulder(s) to break up the adhesions. After two years, I thought I’d skated. Nope.

About three weeks ago, I started noticing pain in both my shoulders – right worse than left, naturally, because I’m right-handed. At first, I thought I’d just overworked them – I’m prone to that, especially in the spring when I’m cleaning up the garden and yard, then planting. But over time, I noticed my right shoulder wouldn’t work as well…getting something off anything but a bottom shelf in a cupboard became problematic – and painful. I recognized the symptoms, sighed, and made an appointment to see the surgeon again. Actually, his physician’s assistant.

That appointment was yesterday. Trying to stave off that manipulation or worse, more surgery, I got a cortisone shot in both shoulders and will subject myself to a week’s worth of painful physical therapy in the hopes that will re-stretch the capsule. If not, another appointment – this time with the surgeon, to discuss options.

In the meantime, I’ll be sorta quiet on social media – sitting at my desk typing, or even using the laptop as it was intended, is painful. That means no writing on the computer, either. 🙁 I’ve done the must do client work and that’s about it.

Getting old sucks!

 

 

Magic Works!

I know I don’t write about magic much. But I wanted to share a success story with you:

As background, I drive a Kia Sportage. There’s been quite a bit in the news about engine issues with some Kias and Hyundais catching fire and those vehicles are under recall. What hasn’t quite hit the news is another problem with those same engines: something about metal shavings from some rod in the engine that can cause the engine to seize up.

I got a letter in December asking me to bring my car in for reprogramming to listen for some noise. If the computer heard the noise, it would go into “limp home” mode – not going above 2,000 rpm. Husband, who retired from the dealership where I purchased my car, said it wasn’t an emergency and we’d do it the next time she needed her oil changed. That happened the end of February.

Less than 500 miles later, I was on my way home from my weekly trip to Atlanta when she dropped out of cruise control and threw a check-engine light. I sighed, called a tow truck, and had her towed to the dealership. Yes, it was the dreaded problem and I was put into a rental car. (While not required under the warranty agreement, it was a morally-good thing for Kia to pay for the rental. I wonder how many hundreds of thousands of dollars they’re shelling out.)

Now comes the fun part: there are somewhere around 30,000 vehicles that needed a new engine. Kia/Hyundai don’t have enough engines and there’s some strike in South Korea preventing building new engines. I was told it was going to be June 3rd before an engine would be available. Then, two weeks later, they said June 25th.

I am a creature of habit and while I can drive nearly anything, I prefer my car. I didn’t want to wait until the end of June (or, more likely, much later) to get my baby back. After a month of driving first a Ford Fusion (which isn’t made for short people – I had to use a cushion to see out the windshield), then a Kia Soul base model (which is OK, but a smaller vehicle, less power, and not as many features), I decided it was time to take action.

I usually stress being very specific in spell wording but this time, I just wanted my car back and completely functional – and that’s what I asked for.

On Monday, the dealership called. Kia had come up with two tests to put all these cars through. If the car passed both tests, the only thing needing to be replaced was a wiring harness, rather than the entire engine. My car was one of the about 60% that passed both tests – I’d have her back by the end of the week.

I got home from my Atlanta trip on Tuesday to be told she was ready. So, yesterday I returned the Soul and happily drove B2 home.

Magic works!

Blackberry Cove Herbal – A Review

I don’t know about you, but when I read a non-fiction book, I always check out the references and recommended reading section. I found this one listed in another book and am so glad I did!

Ms. Rago takes us through a year of happenings (herbal and otherwise) at a cabin in the West Virginia mountains. She grew up there, as did her parents, grandparents, great-grandparents…I think she has the “native” part down.

Her writing is extremely evocative – you can easily picture yourself walking alongside her in the hills or sitting on the cabin’s porch and admiring the view while drinking a cup of herbal tea. Along with stories, she tells you how her grandmother and other elders used the herbs she harvests in those hills. Interspersed with current-day happenings and recipes (receipts being the word used there) are charms spoken for healing purposes. A little magic woven in never hurts!

Granted, what she finds in the hills and hollers of West Virginia is somewhat different than what grows in the southern tail of the Appalachians, but I still found “folk” uses of plants I use that I’d not heard of before and they’ve been added to my notes.

I think this book is out of print (at least, I couldn’t find it new) but if you’re interested in herbs, especially those used in the Appalachian Mountains, this is a must-have for your shelf.

5/5 stars

Mystic South

I know, I know. I’ve been quiet again. Things have been crazy around here, including a 2-week bout with bronchitis right after we got back from vacation.

Anyhoo, I have great news! I’ve been accepted to be a presenter at this year’s Mystic South in Atlanta. I don’t attend many pagan gatherings because most of what they promote isn’t my thing, but this one sounds fun – I already know a couple of the presenters and they have good information.

The subject of my talk is, “Medicinal and Magical Plants of the Southern Appalachians.” Now that I’ve been accepted, I have to write it! In a way, this is a good thing. I haven’t written much about several of the plants before, so I get to research, which is something I love to do. And timing is perfect. I’m in the middle of tax season, which means analytical thinking and writing about herbs, at least to me, is a logical action. The older I get, the harder it is to switch gears between logic and imagination, i.e., writing fiction. So, I’ll be setting Ogre’s Assistant Book Four aside for a bit and dive back into the world of herbs.

If you live anywhere near Atlanta (or are willing to travel), I hope I see you July 19-21st! They haven’t set the schedule, yet, so I don’t know exactly when I’ll be presenting. Watch my Facebook or Twitter account (links on the right) for updates!

Trans Siberian Orchestra

I had planned on just posting a bunch of pics to social media but this deserves a blog post.

First, remember where we live … in the country, up in the mountains. We rarely go to concerts or other artistic events because what may be an easy 15-20 minute drive for city people is over two hours for us; at least half of that on secondary roads to this particular venue. We had tickets to see TSO last year and the weather the night before would have made our trip treacherous, so we opted not to go. (As a side note, we lost power for almost two full days thanks to that storm.)

This year, I was watching the weather closely, biting my nails. Another winter event was headed our way – would it hold off? The worst of it stayed north and east of both us and the event venue. Thank goodness! But that didn’t mean it wasn’t a miserable drive both ways: temperatures in the mid- to high-30s F, heavy rain, and gusty wind. (I’m still thanking the car gods for butt warmers in cars. The walk from the venue back to the car was wretched.)

But oh, it was so worth it. The music was great, as expected. I can’t gush enough about the visual spectacle and my puny phone camera wasn’t able to properly capture everything. But here are some shots:

If you have a problem with lasers or strobe lights, please do not watch this brief video clip. If you don’t, enjoy!

IMG_1153

I did have one problem, though. Toward the end of the performance, they had flames spurting left and right on stage. Husband said at one point, the flames formed a pentagram. I would have loved to have seen that, but I was a little distracted. This guy has one of the best butts I’ve seen in a while and I was staring at him, rather than the stage.

As someone who worked backstage at theaters [mumble, mumble] years ago, I’m always interested in the ‘plumbing’ of a show. I do believe theirs is more complicated and extensive than Cirque du Soleil (which is saying something). According to the guy who spoke while the ladies were changing clothes, it takes 20 semis, 17 tour busses, 112 TSO folks, and another 100 locals to put this thing on. 8 hours to set up, and they only did two shows in Atlanta, leaving to do another two in another city the next day. So glad I’m not one of their roadies!

One thing I really appreciated: I rarely go to concerts anymore, and not just because of the travel time. The music is simply too loud for me to enjoy. However, between using the native PA system which is a) throughout the arena and not just blaring from big, honking speakers onstage, and b) already tuned to the arena; and their board operator’s skill, not only did I not cringe at the volume, I didn’t even have to turn down/take out my hearing aids.

My sole complaint: they use artificial fog extensively. There was already a haze in the arena from their afternoon show and as the concert progressed, so, too, did the haze. I started coughing about half way through the performance and woke up early Sunday morning with a sore throat and inflamed sinuses. Didn’t last long but nonetheless…

It’s two days later and I’m still in awe. If you ever have an opportunity to see them in person, do not hesitate, go. It was so worth getting home after 1 a.m.!

 

Moving from CreateSpace to KDP

 

Mercury Retrograde strikes! But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Originally, I’d published my fiction books only as e-books. Then, a couple of years ago, I realized there were still a lot of people who liked tree-books* so I decided I should bite the bullet, pay the money to get full covers, and have some paperbacks printed. However, the retail pricing CreateSpace insisted on seemed excessive to me, so I priced them at what I thought was reasonable for books that length and kept them in my own inventory. How’s that worked out, you ask? I’ve sold four in something over two years.

Enter Amazon’s decision a few months ago to combine both e-books and paperbacks under one umbrella – KDP – and do away with CreateSpace. I read every blog post I could find regarding the transition. Most people had no issues, but I read of some whose interiors got messed up. I could deal with that…

During the time I was reading about the transition I was thinking about getting the paperbacks out where they’d be more visible. I started researching paperback prices and discovered everyone else was charging what CreateSpace had recommended, so why shouldn’t I?

Stressed! is in the process of getting a new cover from the same designer who did Transformation!. While she was working on that, I figured out how to change the barcode on the original cover of Upheaval! to reflect the new price. Not being a graphic designer, I was rather proud of myself. I uploaded the ‘new’ cover, went through their online preview process (everything looked fine), then ordered a proof to ensure everything looked correct in print.

The proof arrived last Wednesday night. (Our UPS driver is already running late and the holiday shopping season hasn’t really started, yet. Yikes!) Thursday morning, I looked it over, comparing it with the original. It looked identical so I hit ‘publish’ and went on to other things.

Friday afternoon, I got an email from KDP: “The spine text is too large, which can cause the text to wrap onto the front or back cover. It must be at least 0.0625 from the cover sides.” WTF? I didn’t change a damned thing on the cover that had been used for over two years, except the barcode. Yes, I sent a query.

I usually only check email once per day on weekends. This weekend, I should have skipped it. I’d have had a much nicer Sunday. Yesterday morning, I received a reply: “I checked from my end and I see that the Spine text is close to the Spine edge which might cause the text to get wrapped up on back cover during binding process. […] In this case, I would recommend you to change the font size such that it’s at least 0.0625 from the cover sides.” Nowhere did that email address the fact that the same cover image had previously been used with no problem.

As I said above, I’m not a graphic designer. I think I can re-size the spine graphic on my own but if I can’t, that means I’m going to have to pay someone to do it. At the very least, it’ll cost me at least one more proof.

Needless to say, I was and am livid.

 

*I, too, love tree-books. However, I read too much and too fast to get everything in paper. I’d go bankrupt! (Before you say anything, the library in town is small and has a very limited selection.) Not to mention there are a lot of authors who only publish on Kindle. I’d miss out on a lot of them. So, I read e-books and if I like them enough that I know I’ll re-read, I buy the paperback if one is available.

 

23 November Update: I send another “WTF” email to KDP after I wrote this. That afternoon, I got an email from a “specialist” saying she’d look into it. This morning, another email arrived, telling me they’d fixed my cover and I could now publish it. Had a look at it – they used the original cover with the old price. So, still not fixed…

Occult Day 18 November

Did you know? There’s a holiday for that! This year it falls on Sunday, so you get my comments about it early.

Some people tend to forget that “occult” simply means hidden. Look at the various definitions from Merriam-Webster. You don’t get to the ‘woo’ until the fourth definition of the adjective, yet every site addressing this day that I looked at talked about magic. The noun (almost always used with, “the”) is what folks look at. The vast majority of images when you search for “occult” had this sort of theme:

I suspect some doctors are chuckling behind their hands – look at the fifth adjective definition…

Looking at the first adjective definition: everyone hides something.  There’s a line in Billy Joel’s The Stranger that says, “Though we share so many secrets, There are some we never tell.” If you think about it, it’s true. Or should be. Sometimes I wonder about folks on social media sharing everything to the point of TMI…

Whether it’s practicing magic, reading tarot or runes (revealing hidden messages), or simply keeping a part of yourself concealed that others don’t need to see, celebrate Occult Day!